THE SINGLE Payment Scheme is the biggest change in agriculture for over 30 years, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty has warned.

The new system starts on Jan 1 and the minister has said that everyone in the agricultural industry will feel the effects in some way.

One of the big benefits for farmers would be a reduction in the administrative burden they faced, he said.

“The SPS simplifies the system by consolidating the ten existing major payment schemes – and some others – into one,” he said.

“The new system will also ensure that all farmers are meeting the legislative baseline and delivering a higher level of environmental protection.

“The public want and expect farmers to play a major role as custodians of the countryside.”

Lord Whitty said he believed 2005 would present a major new opportunity for farmers to reconnect to markets and the consumer.

“For some, this new system will be a challenge – for others, it will be little different to the way they usually operate. It is certainly a key time for business decisions.

“If payment entitlements are not established in 2005, the boat will have been missed. But everyone will have to reconsider the future of their business to make the most of the new opportunities.”

To find out whether other farm leaders think 2005 is a New Year or a New Era see this week‘s FARMERS WEEKLY (w/e Dec 31).